Just 24% of education health and care plans issued by Luton council within 20 weeks - compared to 90% target

Children in a classroomChildren in a classroom
Children in a classroom
Rising demand for EHCPs putting pressure on Luton Borough Council's SEND services, meeting warned

Increased demand is piling pressure on Luton Borough Council’s ability to issue education health and care plans (EHCPs) within the statutory timeline, a meeting heard.

The percentage of EHCPs completed by the local authority within 20 weeks, excluding exceptions, is 23.6 per cent, said a report to the council’s overview and scrutiny board.

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“This figure falls below the department target of 90 per cent,” the report explained. “The service has seen the impact of recruitment and retention difficulties previously. But it managed to address that in the latter part of 2022.

“Overall the team continues with the same level of staffing in place as 2021. There’s now an improvement in the number of EHCPs issued in the timescale, although this has coincided with the increase in demand.

“This is further putting at risk the team’s ability to maintain and increase improvements to general compliance of key performance indicators.”

Meanwhile councils “wasted” £46m on special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) tribunals in 2021/22, according to a study by the Pro Bono Economics think-tank commissioned by the Disabled Children’s Partnership charity.

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The Local Government Association reporting on its findings suggested this money could have been better used to fund specialist school places.

More than 11,000 SEND tribunals contesting local authority decisions were registered in 2021/22, an increase of 29 per cent on the previous year, the study revealed.

Tribunal judges found against councils in 96 per cent of cases, it emerged, indicating significant problems with the way many local authorities currently compile or resource SEND plans for children.

As well as the £46m councils spent fighting tribunal cases, the courts system faced a bill of £13.6m, said the report, Wasted Money, Wasted Potential.

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It estimates that 9,960 extra places in special educational needs (SEN) units could be funded with the money councils spent fighting tribunals.

Tribunals were usually brought by parents, carers and youngsters disputing an EHCP, which is a legal document issued by councils that sets out educational support children and young people will receive. The LGA estimates around 500,000 youngsters in England currently have an EHCP.

“These growing disagreements about EHCP decisions are the result of a combination of growing applications for them, local authority staff struggling to meet this need while managing tight SEN budgets, and an erosion of trust between those seeking support and council staff,” added the study.

“Austerity-hit councils recently reported a SEND funding gap of £600m a year.

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Head of advocacy at Pro Bono Economics Anoushka Kenley described the report’s findings as “deeply worrying”, as children and young people are “forced to go without essential support while these disputes rumble on”. She said: “The entire process is in need of a re-think.”